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Social Inequality

Kathryn Neckerman

Publication Year: 2004

Inequality in income, earnings, and wealth has risen dramatically in the United States over the past three decades. Most research into this issue has focused on the causes—global trade, new technology, and economic policy—rather than the consequences of inequality. In Social Inequality, a group of the nation’s leading social scientists opens a wide-ranging inquiry into the social implications of rising economic inequality. Beginning with a critical evaluation of the existing research, they assess whether the recent run-up in economic inequality has been accompanied by rising inequality in social domains such as the quality of family and neighborhood life, equal access to education and health care, job satisfaction, and political participation. Marcia Meyers and colleagues find that many low-income mothers cannot afford market-based child care, which contributes to inequality both at the present time—by reducing maternal employment and family income—and through the long-term consequences of informal or low-quality care on children’s educational achievement. At the other end of the educational spectrum, Thomas Kane links the growing inequality in college attendance to rising tuition and cuts in financial aid. Neil Fligstein and Taek-Jin Shin show how both job security and job satisfaction have decreased for low-wage workers compared with their higher-paid counterparts. Those who fall behind economically may also suffer diminished access to essential social resources like health care. John Mullahy, Stephanie Robert, and Barbara Wolfe discuss why higher inequality may lead to poorer health: wider inequality might mean increased stress-related ailments for the poor, and it might also be associated with public health care policies that favor the privileged. On the political front, Richard Freeman concludes that political participation has become more stratified as incomes have become more unequal. Workers at the bottom of the income scale may simply be too hard-pressed or too demoralized to care about political participation. Social Inequality concludes with a comprehensive section on the methodological problems involved in disentangling the effects of inequality from other economic factors, which will be of great benefit to future investigators. While today’s widening inequality may be a temporary episode, the danger is that the current economic divisions may set in motion a self-perpetuating cycle of social disadvantage. The most comprehensive review of this quandary to date, Social Inequality maps out a new agenda for research on inequality in America with important implications for public policy.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

Too much talk about social inequality generally makes Americans uncomfortable. We are, after all, a nation founded on the premise that “all men are created equal,” and most Americans see themselves as part of a vast middle class that encompasses the greater part of society. The evident economic differences between rich and poor do not dislodge the popular conviction that America still provides equal opportunities for all. In a free market economy, open to individual enterprise and ability, some people will inevitably work harder, or get a better education, ...

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pp. xvii-xxvi

About twenty-five years ago, economic inequality began to rise in the United States. Poverty increased and incomes fell among the poor, while the affluent enjoyed a substantial increase in their standard of living. This inequality has grown through both recession and recovery, and shows few signs of abating. Debate continues about the causes of rising inequality, but most experts agree that any explanation should include global trade, immigration, a decline in union strength, the computerization of work, and the decline in the real value of the minimum wage. ...

Part I: Family and Neighborhood

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pp. 1-2

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Chapter 1. The Uneven Spread of Single-Parent Families: What Do We Know? Where Do We Look for Answers?

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pp. 3-78

American families changed dramatically during the last third of the twentieth century. From 1900 until the late 1960s, roughly three-quarters of all American sixteen-year-olds had lived with both of their biological parents. By 2000 only about half of all sixteen-year- olds were living with both biological parents. During the first half of the twentieth century, moreover, most parents who were not living with their children had no choice about the matter: ...

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Chapter 2. Women's Education and Family Timing: Outcomes and Trends Associated with Age at Marriage and First Birth

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pp. 79-118

In the United States the decades from the 1970s to the 1990s were a time of increasing social and economic inequality, as well as a time when family patterns diverged across social and economic strata. A well-known changing family pattern was a shift in family structure—the dramatic increase in single-parent families that David Ellwood and Christopher Jencks discuss in chapter 1 of this volume; ...

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Chapter 3. Neighborhoods, Poverty, and Children's Well-Being

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pp. 119-146

Income inequality in the United States increased between 1970 and 2000 (Danziger and Gottschalk 1995; DeNavas-Walt, Cleveland, and Roemer 2001). For example, the percentage share of all household income earned by the top 25 percent of the population increased from 43 percent in 1970 to almost 50 percent in 2000 (DeNavas-Walt, Cleveland, and Raemer 2001, table C). This volume examines the consequences of rising income inequality for social and political inequalities in American society. ...

Part II: Investments in Children

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pp. 147-148

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Chapter 4. Trends in Children's Attainments and Their Determinants as Family Income Inequality Has Increased

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pp. 149-188

The increase in family income inequality since the early 1970s is one of the most cited economic changes during this three-decade period. As family income inequality increases, those families below the median are further from the social norm than before; similarly, those at the top of the distribution see a larger gap between themselves and the rest of the population. Such growing disparities are not inconsistent with increases over time in the absolute level of income and well-being for both high- and low-income families. ...

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Chapter 5. Inequality in Parental Investment in Child-Rearing: Expenditures, Time, and Health

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pp. 189-220

What parents do for children “matters”—or so it is assumed. Much of the literature on social inequality at the individual or household level in the United States has focused on the role that families play in (re)producing inequality. For example, in the late 1960s and 1970s, the most studied topic in U.S. social stratification was intergenerational occupational mobility (Blau and Duncan 1967; Duncan, Featherman, and Duncan 1972; Jencks 1972). ...

Part III: Inequality in School and Work

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pp. 221-222

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Chapter 6. Inequality in Early Childhood Education and Care: What Do We Know?

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pp. 223-270

The distribution of household income grew more unequal in the United States during the closing decades of the twentieth century. Persistent and growing income inequality is arguably a problem in its own right, but it is also a source of concern if income deficits and inequality exacerbate other social problems. These issues are particularly salient in the case of children, who have the least control over their economic circumstances but may have the most to gain (or lose) from economic resources. ...

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Chapter 7. Progress in Schooling

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pp. 271-318

This chapter reviews measures, trends, and differentials in grade retention and dropout in American elementary and secondary schools from the early 1970s to the late 1990s. Differentials in grade retention and school dropout reflect social and economic inequalities and, for that reason, may have been affected by the rise of income and wealth inequality in and after the 1970s. However, there appears to be more evidence of stability than of change in the effects of social origins on progress through elementary and secondary school. ...

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Chapter 8. College-Going and Inequality

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pp. 319-354

Since 1973, when Congress undertook the last major structural reform of federal financial aid rules by establishing the Pell Grant program—a school voucher program for low income undergraduates—very little has changed in the way in which government helps families pay for college. Meanwhile, the environment has changed dramatically. First, the labor market for college graduates is quite different. ...

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Chapter 9. Digital Inequality: From Unequal Access to Differentiated Use

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pp. 355-400

The Internet boosts immeasurably our collective capacity to archive information, search through large quantities of it quickly, and retrieve it rapidly. It is said that the Internet will expand access to education, good jobs, and better health and that it will create new deliberative spaces for political discussion and provide citizens with direct access to government. Insofar as such claims are plausible, Internet access is an important resource, ...

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Chapter 10. The Shareholder Value Society: A Review of the Changes in Working Conditions and Inequality in the United States, 1976 to 2000

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pp. 401-432

Increases in income inequality in the United States over the past quarter-century have been well documented (Murphy and Welch 1992; Karoly 1992; Freeman 1997; Levy and Murnane 1992; Katz and Autor 1999). Everyone has agreed to three main facts: income and wage inequality increased in the 1980s, stabilized in the late 1980s and early 1990s, then began to increase until the late 1990s, when it once again stabilized (Freeman 1997; Lee 1999). ...

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Chapter 11. The Changing Distribution of Education Finance,1972 to 1997

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pp. 433-466

Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities (1991) is a searing indictment of the American system of public education. It paints a bleak picture of inner-city students struggling in overcrowded classrooms and dilapidated buildings. Kozol compares these children to suburban students at well-funded schools with large campuses, modern scientific equipment, and highly paid and well-trained faculty. ...

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Chapter 12. School Inequality: What Do We Know?

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pp. 467-520

As we enter the twenty-first century, poor and non-Asian minority students lag considerably behind their nonpoor, Asian, and white counterparts on many dimensions of academic performance. Although scholars have long known that these academic disparities stem from many causes, commentators on both sides of the political spectrum often attribute these gaps to disparities in school quality. Thus, President George W. Bush has promoted his “No Child Left Behind” education reform legislation as a crusade against low-quality schools. ...

Part IV: Inequality in Health

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pp. 521-522

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Chapter 13. Health, Income, and Inequality

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pp. 523-544

Increases in income and earnings inequality over the past twenty-five years have been well documented. What we do not know is whether there have been associated increases in inequality in other dimensions, such as health status. Health status may have a reciprocal relationship with income inequality. Health can affect human capital and hence the ability to earn, to engage more productively in nonmarket activities, and to enjoy consumption more or less fully. ....

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Chapter 14. The Income-Health Relationship and the Role of Relative Deprivation

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pp. 545-568

While there is a strong, positive relationship between individual income and individual health, there is less evidence of a relationship between aggregate income and aggregate health. Several recent papers argue that increases in individual income affect health and well-being not just through increases in absolute material standards but also through a relative deprivation effect (Aberg-Yngwe et al. 2003; Luttmer 2003; Eibner and Evans, forthcoming). ...

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Chapter 15. Inequality in Life and Death: What Drives Racial Trends in U.S. Child Death Rates?

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pp. 569-632

This chapter examines the trends in and determinants of child death rates in the United States over the period 1980 to 1998. The annual death rate (number of deaths per 100,000 population) of children age zero to nineteen declined by 39.6 percent over this period, from 117.6 deaths per 100,000 in 1980 to 71.0 in 1998. Several explanations have been offered for this marked decline in the child death rate. ...

Part V: Inequality in Political Participation

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pp. 633-634

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Chapter 16. Political Equality: What Do We Know About It?

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pp. 635-666

Among the bedrock principles in a democracy is equal consideration of the preferences and interests of all citizens, a commitment that is expressed in such principles as one person, one-vote, equality before the law, and equal rights of free speech, press, and assembly. Equal consideration of the preferences and needs of all citizens is fostered by equal political activity among citizens, not only in voting turnout but also in other forms of political activity that include working in political campaigns, ...

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Chapter 17. An Analytical Perspective on Participatory Inequality and Income Inequality

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pp. 667-702

At least since the sans culottes—literally, “those without breeches”—streamed through the streets of Paris in 1789 to overthrow the ostentatious and corrupt ancien régime, modern social theorists have grappled with the relationship between poverty and political participation. Connections between people’s economic resources and their political activities date back to antiquity, but the appearance in the late eighteenth century of democratic nations with novel forms ...

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Chapter 18. What, Me Vote?

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pp. 703-728

Voting turnout, measured by the number of persons voting relative to the population of voting age, is lower in the United States than in other advanced democracies, including the United States’ nearest neighbor, Canada. From 1945 to the late 1990s, the United States averaged a 48.3 percent turnout of the voting age population while Canada averaged a 68.4 percent turnout relative to the voting age population. ...

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Chapter 19. Civic Transformation and Inequality in the Contemporary United States

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pp. 729-768

Has civic life in the United States become more or less equal over the past half-century? Even to pose this question in an intelligent way requires us to explore the interrelations of two sets of momentous transformations. We must consider the interactions between shifting inequalities in American society and a sharply transformed universe of voluntary organizations and participation. ...

Part VI: Inequality and Public Policy

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pp. 769-770

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Chapter 20. Crime, Punishment, and American Inequality

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pp. 771-796

Two major social trends steadily reduced the living standards of young American men with little education over the last thirty years. The earnings of men with just a high school education were eroded by the tide of rising U.S. income inequality. While wages fell, growth in the American penal system turned prison and jail time into common life events for low-skill and minority men. The new inequality and the prison boom both date from the mid-1970s, and both trends continued through the end of the 1990s. ...

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Chapter 21. The Consequences of Income Inequality for Redistributive Policy in the United States

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pp. 797-820

Although the United States has one of the highest levels of income inequality among developed countries, pre-tax-and-transfer income inequality is only 7 percent higher than the average for twelve other advanced industrial nations (Hacker et al. 2003, 4–5).1 In other words, market income inequality is not much higher in the United States than in these countries. What differentiates the United States is that taxes and transfers do not redistribute income to the same degree. ...

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Chapter 22. Income Distribution and Public Social Expenditure: Theories, Effects, and Evidence

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pp. 821-860

What is the relationship between economic inequality and public social expenditure? Why might it matter? Income distribution and social spending have long been analyzed by both economists and political scientists. More than seventy years ago, R. H. Tawney (1931/1964, 133, 121) discussed the growth and significance of public provision for education, health, and social ...

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Chapter 23. Politics, Public Policy, and Inequality: A Look Back at the Twentieth Century

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pp. 861-892

For at least a century, the United States has enjoyed unbridled prosperity. True, there have been significant interruptions in the upward course of per capita growth, most notably during the Great Depression. Although we could not always answer positively to Ronald Reagan’s famous 1980 presidential debate question, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” most of us are unambiguously better off than our grandparents were fifty years ago, or their grandparents fifty years earlier.1 ...

Part VII: Inequality in Wealth

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pp. 893-894

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Chapter 24. U.S. Black-White Wealth Inequality

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pp. 895-930

The distribution of wealth in the United States is highly skewed. In 1998 the top 1 percent of families held 34 percent of the wealth, and the top 10 percent of families held 68.7 percent of the wealth (Kennickell 2000). Wealth is distributed far more unevenly than income. The Census Bureau estimates that in 1998 households in the top 5 percent of the income distribution received 21.4 percent of annual income. ...

Part VIII: Methods and Concepts

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pp. 931-932

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Chapter 25. Assessing the Effect of Economic Inequality

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pp. 933-968

The rise in income inequality over the past three decades has spawned a surge in research that examines the causes and consequences of this trend. Authors from a variety of disciplines have examined the impact of various measures of inequality on outcomes as diverse as mortality, health habits, self-reported health status, civic and voter participation, trust, marriage, crime, educational attainment, the size of local governments, self-reported happiness, and school spending. ...

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Chapter 26. How Inequality May Affect Intergenerational Mobility

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pp. 969-988

Inequality and social mobility go together intuitively. For hundreds of years social observers have treated both as measures of a nation’s ability to offer opportunity and to treat its citizens fairly. Robert Mare (2002) notes that the sociological study of social mobility is rooted in concerns with the causes of social inequality.1 Closer inspection reveals that these core social indicators are far from equivalent. ...


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pp. 989-1017

E-ISBN-13: 9781610444217
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871546210
Print-ISBN-10: 0871546213

Page Count: 1024
Publication Year: 2004